Khalifa Mubarak Al Hammadi scored a winner deep into added time to hand Al Jazira a dramatic 3-2 win over Iranian side Persepolis in the first leg of their Asian Champions League last-16 tie on Monday.
Iranian forward Ali Alipour had given Persepolis the lead at half-time but UAE striker Ali Mabkhout quickly restored parity after the break, when he side-stepped two defenders to send a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner seven minutes into the second half.
Jazira were ahead 15 minutes later when Brazilian forward Romarinho picked up a short pass from Mabkhout to find the net from the centre of the penalty area.
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Persepolis then drew level in the 84th minute from a re-taken spot kick by substitute Godwin Mensha after Mohammed Al Attas handled the ball on a clearance from Moroccan international Mbark Boussoufa.
However, Jazira managed to earn themselves a slender advantage ahead of the return leg, as Al Hammadi rose to meet Boussoufa’s crossed free-kick with seconds left on the clock.
The victory at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium represented the first time Jazira have won a game in the last-16 stage of the Champions League. It was also the Abu Dhabi club’s first win over Persepolis.
Jazira now travel to the Azadi stadium in Tehran for the second leg next week aiming to book their place in the quarter-finals.
“The team showed a lot of energy and it was a good team effort, and a good win for us,” Jazira manager Henk Ten Cate said.
“The winning goal was scored by one of our young players. I’m optimistic following this result. I’m sure we are going to score at least one away goal in the second leg. So we’ll wait and see.”
Henk ten Cate was not impressed by the re-awarded spot kick for Persepolis.
“I’m not disputing the penalty but I’m confused why the linesman had his flag up when the referee was in a better position to judge what happened,” the Dutchman said.
Ten Cate said he was encouraged by his team’s display and their ability to respond after the interval having fallen behind just minutes before half-time.
“It was an even match but we were disappointed when we conceded the first goal from what appeared to be the first cross in the match,” he said.
With Jazira set to play in front of an estimated 100,000 fans at the Azadi stadium, Ten Cate said his players will relish the opportunity.
“We play here in empty stadiums but I’m sure everyone enjoyed playing in front of big crowds,” he said. “We had a lot of spectators when we played in the Fifa Club World Cup and we did pretty well. I’m looking forward to playing in front of 100,000 fans in Teheran.”
Branko Ivankovic, the Persepolis manager, believes the two away goals can come to his team’s rescue when they host Jazira on May 14.
“Obviously we need to win first,” he said. “Of course the two away goals will come in handy for us in case the it ends in a tie.”